Robert Hahn

inspired by integration

I'm always interested in infrastructure that brings people together and facilitates communication. I'm currently exploring social software, markup & scripting languages, and abstract games.

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noted on Thu, 15 Jan 2004

Getting the value out of WSMD files

I don’t have all the answers here, but I’m convinced that this proposed solution is bound to be useful in all sorts of situations. I humbly submit the following inspirations, and I hope you’ll share with me ideas of your own.

Single Sign On

If you are contributing to a vast international website spanning multiple domains on multiple machines in multiple locations, you’ve probably had to give some thought to creating some kind of single sign-on mechanism that would empower any registered user to access any part of the site, no matter where she registered in the first place.

If such a site also required that some user have different privileges than others, then a WSMD file could be useful to establish domains where people may have access. What’s cool about this is that you can alter the files whenever you want, and transparently alter what domains are accessible to a registered user — in real time.

Site Robustness

This idea depends on the willingness for search engines, such as Google, to cache WSMD files (but since they’re HTML anyway, that’s already been done, I suppose), then modify the search interface a bit to be able to search the contents of such files intelligently.

How will this contribute to the robustness of your site? Suppose your site spanned multiple domains, and one of your machines got slashdotted. You decide to move some of the content to another machine, link it off the homepage on that machine, and rest easy. Why? Because anyone knowledgeable enough to hit Google after discovering your slashdotted site could easily find out from the cached WSMD file for your site that you’re hosting on more than one machine, and go see if the information they seek is on the other one.

I think the WSMD file also de-emphasizes the importance of domain names. I’ve had a friend make the comment that anyone who had to split their site up among multiple machines is being sloppy. Yes, that’s arguable; there are many sites built over multiple machines that are purposefully designed that way, and to consolidate them under a single domain could well be impossible. But with a WSMD file and the right interface, where a particular piece of information comes from may well be irrelevant, as long as you can get it.

Ownership of Content

Have you ever been in the situation where you decided to comment on another story or post on someone else’s site, only to find that the thinking was so good, you wish you could move it to your own? With a WSMD file, you could simply ‘claim’ your comments as being part of your site, and people searching for something you said wouldn’t have to worry if you said it on your own hosted pages or as part of a submitted comment.

None of these ideas are in themselves the ‘killer app’ for WSMD, but that’s ok. We’ve had the web since, what? 1991? I got started in this in ’95, and I know that there existed no machine-parseable definition of what a website is in that time. If this notion were to take off and become popular, I’d rather it stay loose enough to ensure we’re marking up the right content, and tighten it up as time goes by, and our relative experiences increase. And it’s going to take a certain amount of experience before we can figure out how to make the best use of this information.

tall ship